I'm at my second conference on Social Networks in two weeks. I am at severe risk of buzzword burnout and if anyone asks me again whether I am twittering this conference I cannot be held accountable for my actions. The conference has been cleverly self-knowing and instituted a game of buzzword bingo, which most people had completed before the end of the introductions. I have to say I am fed up to the back teeth with 'social media gurus' telling me things like, 'your organisation *must* have a blog' and 'did you know, social networking tools can help connect teams and make them more productive?'. No. Organisations should explicitly *not* force their members to blog. A blog is only a useful tool for publishing direct to the web and communicating around that content in a very immediate way. Like any social media tool it is only as good as its content and the level of engagement with it, and its success is bound by the degree of value its audience finds in it. Likewise, using social media tools to connect team members or to connect with customers only works if the human beings living and working with those tools (a) actually use them and (b) find them useful - and fun.
One of the things that has been good so far about this conference is that it has acknowledged that social media tools are not great in their own right. They are great if applied well in the right situation. And sometimes they are great when applied in surprising ways perhaps never intended by the corporation which developed them.
Thankfully, a strong theme at the conference has been around the importance of the human element. A company blog works really well if it has a genuine personality; if it is set up and written by a person or team who has a passion about a subject to the extent that they have a *lot* to say about it, and say in an interesting way. I loved the presentation by Microsoft's Steve Clayton, who demonstrated just how a piece of content (in this case a video advertising a Microsoft game) can become a powerful marketing tool when it is transformed into a 'social object', mixed and mashed and commented on and passed on by the consumers themselves - but I noted that this was not a deliberate Microsoft strategy in this case; just something that happened in a surprising way. How do we learn from that or replicate it before it is already a hackneyed idea, I wonder, of which consumers will largely be suspicious?
Another fascinating presentation came from Andrea Saveri at The Institute for the Future. Speaking about the future of work she discussed the 'amplified individual' a personality type that will be key in organisations of the future, a person who is highly social, highly collaborative and improvisational, who taps into their network to filter information and to solve problems.This presentation again brought home to me that you can give everyone social media tools in the workplace, but whilst an 'amplified individual' will probably adopt and use them effectively, you can't create an amplified individual purely by giving them the tools.
And finally, I was completely wowed by Ken Thompson's presentation on what we can learn from 'Bioteams'. He posited that human teams are inherently weak but that nature's teams (bumble bees, termites etc) display characteristics that we can all learn from. In nature, no one group member takes the lead; they use the right group member for the right task at the right time. They use short, instant messages.Short instant messages create dynamic, mobile teams in a way that long documents do not. They blend large group and small group dynamics, using each for the appropriate circumstances. And nature's networks are clustered, sending messages through the best 'connectors'. Social networks and tools can be a great leveller and can enable much of this 'swarm-like' activity to take place. But we'll all have to become more like bees to make it work well.